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Posts Tagged ‘instruments

“Different musical instruments provide for different music”*…

The German polymath and Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher [see here] had a lifelong fascination with sound and devoted two books to the subject: Musurgia Universalis (1650), on the theoretical (and theological) aspects, and Phonurgia Nova (1673), on the science of acoustics and its practical applications. It’s no surprise then to learn that his famed museum at Rome’s Collegio Romano boasted— in addition to “vomiting statues”, ghost-conjuring mirrors, and other curious wonders — a vast and diverse collection of musical instruments.

Much of what we know of Kircher’s museum today is thanks to his student and fellow Jesuit priest Filippo Buonanni (1638-1725), who succeeded Kircher as both Professor of Mathematics and, upon Kircher’s death, as chief custodian of the museum for which he produced an epic and exhaustive, near-800-page catalogue in 1709. Following in his master’s footsteps, Buonanni too held a dizzying array of interests and specialisms including numismatics, microscopy, spontaneous generation, Chinese laquer, seashells (on which he produced the first monograph), and also, like Kircher, music.

Inspired by the collection of instruments in Kircher’s wunderkammer, and intrigued by the stories behind them, in 1722 Buonanni published his Gabinetto Armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori (or Harmonic cabinet full of sonorous instruments), an attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world. While there’s a short and often illuminating text for each instrument it is the 152 engraved plates — executed by Flemish artist and publisher Arnold van Westerhout — which really steal the show. The featured instruments are divided into three sections — wind, string, and percussion — and preceded by thirteen brief discussions of other musical categories, including: military, funeral, used in sacrifices, and, intriguingly, as used at sea: not sirens, but chantying sailors. While some of the instruments gathered in Buonanni’s book are as simple as the bee-keeper banging his tub, or the clacking of shoes against the floor, some are highly crafted, technical machines; the great organ at Palazzo Verospi requires a fold-out page to show it all. We are also treated to what might be considered more incidental instruments, for example, the bell about a bound criminal’s neck and the sound of a soldier’s sword being struck…

Engravings from an ambitious and beautiful attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world: “Filippo Buonanni’s Harmonic Cabinet (1722)

Browse the volume on the Internet Archive; see the full collection of drawings on Flickr.

* Amos Oz

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As we celebrate sound, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti; he was born on this date in 1685. A composer (and keyboardist), he is regularly classified chronologically as part of the Baroque period (along with his famous father, Alessandro Scarlatti); but Domenico’s work– perhaps especially his 555 keyboard sonatas– were richly influential in the development of the Classical style.

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“My ambition was to live like music”*…

 

synth

 

Mary Hallock Greenewalt always wanted to be known as an inventor. Born on September 8, 1871, in Syria Vilayet—present-day Beirut—to a Syrian mother, Sara Tabet, and an American father, she was sent at age 11 to live with relatives in Philadelphia. She began her professional life as a pianist in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh orchestras but around 1905, when Greenewalt was in her mid-30s, she began to experiment with a new kind of instrument. It would be a feast for the senses, combining color with sound. During performances, Greenewalt would use the various pedals, switches, and keyboards on her machine—essentially an early synthesizer—to play songs that were synchronized with projected light. She called her modified organ the “Sarabet.”

Tinkering with that creation—and then defending her claims on the inventions—became her life’s work. Between 1919 and 1926, Greenewalt filed 11 patents with the United States Patent Office for inventions related to the Sarabet. In 1932, she successfully sued General Electric for copyright infringement on the rheostat, a device she patented that varied the resistance of the electricity in the Sarabet.

Greenewalt and her inventions may not be widely known to most musicians today, but they were essential to the creation of many electric instruments, in particular the synthesizer, which would revolutionize the music industry in the 1960s…

Mary Hallock Greenewalt received 11 patents for her “color organ,” an early form of synthesizer. She would spend the rest of her life defending them: “Industrial Light and Magic.”

* Mary Gaitskill

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As we celebrate synesthesia, we might recall that it was on this date in 548 that “Hank Morgan” found himself transported from late 19th century America to 6th century England… in Mark Twain’s marvelous A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

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Frontispiece of the 1889 first edition, by Daniel Carter Beard

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“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time”*…

 

Deirdre Loughridge and Thomas Patteson, curators of the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments, explore the wonderful history of made-up musical contraptions, including a piano comprised of yelping cats and Francis Bacon’s 17th-century vision of experimental sound manipulation: “Cat Pianos, Sound-Houses, and Other Imaginary Musical Instruments.”

* Johann Sebastian Bach

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As we tickle the ivories, we might spare a thought for Johann Nepomuk Maelzel; he died on this date in 1838.  Remembered these days as the inventor of the metronome, Maezel was well-known in his own time as an inventor and impresario.  He was especially well-known for his automatons– clock work trumpeters, chess players, miniature song birds, and the like that he exhibited widely.  In 1804 Maezel invented a kind of “player orchestra,” the panharmonicon, an automaton able to play the musical instruments of a military band, powered by bellows, and directed by revolving cylinders on which the notes were stored.  The “instrument” was admired across Europe, and earned its creator the post of imperial court-mechanician at Vienna, and the friendship of Beethoven (whom Maezel convinced to write Wellington’s Victory [Battle Symphony] Opus 91).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”*…

 

Wittgenstein playing Pictionary with Freud; Russell, Hegel, and Marx as Pokemon characters; Sartre’s birthday party; Greek Hold’em– all this and much, much more merriment (in larger format) at the exquisite Existential Comics.  The inevitable anguish of living a brief life in a absurd world.  Also jokes.

* Ludwig Wittgenstein

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As we get behind the greater good, we might spare a thought for Johann Christoph Denner; he died on this date in 1707. One of the Baroque Era’s leading musical instrument makers, he was renown throughout Europe for his well-tuned recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons.  But he is best remembered as the inventor the clarinet, a result of Denner’s attempts to refine the chalumeau, the first true single reed instrument.  The chalumeau and clarinet are the only woodwinds with a cylindrical bore; others (including the flute) have a conical bore.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

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